Hu’s research at UAB will focus on how to induce a primary antibody response like a memory one. “The humoral immune response is one of the two effector arms of the immune system,” explains Hu. “Studies have shown that CD4+ T follicular helper (Tfh) cells are essential for long-lived, high affinity antibody responses. Yet the complex regulation that determines the initial development of Tfh cells, their developmental progression in germinal centers (GC), and their fates after an immune response dissolves, is still not fully understood. Recently, my research has shown that transcription factor Foxp1 is a rate-limiting and essential negative regulator of Tfh cell differentiation, drastically affecting GC and antibody responses (Nat. Immunol. 2014).”

 “Usually your initial immune antibody response to an infectious agent takes about a week, and is relatively weak.” Hu says. “Now we have found an important regulatory step that could allow us to induce antibody responses more faster-acting and effective. And in the other way around, we may also be able to significantly dampen the antibody responses that are unwanted in some cases of autoimmune diseases such as lupus.”

Hu’s laboratory is also working to find a way to activate T cells under immunosuppressive circumstance. “Much of our understanding of molecular mechanisms regulating immune responses is centered on pathways and processes that promote cell activation, division and differentiation,” says Hu. “My research has already demonstrated that cell-intrinsic signaling pathways are required to maintain mature T cells in a quiescent state (Nat. Immunol. 2011). If these pathways are disrupted, resting T cells become aberrantly activated even in the absence of antigen challenge. My next step is to identify regulatory genes and pathways that actively restrain T cell activation, and define the roles of such negative regulatory pathways in controlling T cell quiescence, effector responses, memory maintenance, and tumor immunology.”

Committed to the study of infectious and immune-mediated diseases

The UAB Department of Microbiology is consistently ranked amongst the best microbiology departments in the country, and faculty currently hold more than 50 grants and $13 million in extramural grant funding. We are a vibrant highly collaborative research community actively serving the university mission of excellence in research, service and teaching. 

It is an exciting time to be a scientist at UAB and in the Department of Microbiology. The department is actively recruiting new faculty members and with our existing cadre of investigators and the new faculty who join us, we plan to capitalize on the department’s strong foundation and heritage to build a scientifically rich environment that will allow us to meet our twin missions of carrying out cutting-edge, fundamental basic and translational research to improve human health and educating the next generation of scientists who will lead the fight against infectious and immune-mediated diseases.

Research

We are improving human health by carrying out cutting-edge, fundamental basic and translational research focusing on the bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause human disease. Faculty in the Department of Microbiology have research programs in five broad yet interconnected areas; Microbial Pathogenesis, Immunology, Virology, Structural Biology and Cancer.

Education

We are educating and training the next generation of scientists, educators and entrepreneurs who will lead the fight against infectious and immune-mediated diseases. Department of Microbiology faculty participate in teaching classes to undergraduate, graduate and medical students and serve as the organizers and course directors for a number of the graduate level classes.

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